Changing Our Spots

Our salvation is more than just some tweak. More than just an adjustment or some fine-tuning. It isn’t about taking something that was already pretty good and making it better. Rather, it is about radical transformation. So radical, in fact, that apart from divine intervention, left to the laws of nature, it just wouldn’t happen.

That’s what I’m chewing on this morning as I hover over a verse in Jeremiah.

Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.

(Jeremiah 13:23 ESV)

The people of Judah and their sin were inseparable. So deep was the stain of sin that marked them that it was as permanent as their skin color, as intricately woven into their DNA as the spots on a leopard. Their pride, rebellion, and idolatry so deeply ingrained that no amount of effort could transform their innate desire for evil into an active pursuit of holiness. They were powerless to work the transformation needed for their reformation or restoration.

It brings Romans to mind:

. . . as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” . . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

(Romans 3:10-12, 23 ESV)

That’s who we were. No righteousness. No understanding. No seeking. Going our own way. Of no eternal value whatsoever. No good. Not even a little. Not even one. Those were our spots. Unchangeable, despite our greatest desires and our best efforts to be otherwise.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

(Romans 3:21-22 ESV)

But . . . what a glorious word, the word but.

But now the righteousness of God has been revealed. Not just some spot remover, but a spot replacer. Not just cleaning up the outside, but actually converting the inside. Rewired. Our spiritually darkened DNA swapped out and replaced with Another’s.

We are people whose spots have been changed. Not changed as in prettied up, but changed as in overthrown . . . turned on its head . . . transformed.

Changed not because of anything we have done, or could ever do. But our spots changed by faith alone in the Person and finished work of the Son of God alone.

New creations in Christ (2Cor. 5:17). Once dead in trespass and sin, now made alive in truth and spirit. Without stain or spot.

Not some tweak, but a glorious transformation.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Because of grace. For His glory.

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Holders of the Faith

It’s sin. To show partiality is sin. To regard one person as more esteemed simply because of their high socio-economic status, and ignore another because their not so high socio-economic status is partiality–and that’s sin. To pamper the rich and brush aside the poor is wrong. And James says to his brothers (and sisters), “Don’t do it!” Rather, James says, fulfill the royal law, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (James 2:1-8).

And I get it. I’m pickin’ up what James is laying down. I understand the “to do.” I underline it as a command to obey.

But what captures my attention this morning, beyond the what of the command, is the why.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

(James 2:1 ESV)

As believers, we hold the faith. That’s what I’m noodling on this morning.

Not only have we believed the truth, but now we possess the truth. The conviction of belief results in a carrying of that belief. Having received it, we are now responsible for it. What was once simply regarded as our salvation, continues to be our stewardship. We are holders of the faith.

What we do becomes the commentary on what we believe. Because we are holders of the faith, when we show partiality, or we discriminate, or we fail to recognize all men and women as created in the image of God, it says something about the gospel we say we trust in. That while it may be the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16), it’s not the power for everyone. That the good news is only good news for some, making distinctions based on external factors. Like whether someone is rich or poor. And we know that’s not true.

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which He has promised to those who love Him?

(James 2:5 ESV)

“Those who love Him”, not those who have a hefty balance in their bank account, that’s who God’s chosen. They’re the ones counted rich in faith and worthy of the kingdom.

Not only do our actions represent what we believe in, but they also reflect on Who we believe in. If we have been born of God, if we are being conformed into His image, and make arbitrary distinctions among people, then musn’t our God do so also? But we know that’s not true either.

There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

(Romans 2:9-11 ESV)

We are holders of the faith. That’s it. Our default position. That’s part of the deal. Part of what we became when we believed.

Sounds kind of heavy if you chew on it a bit. Brings to mind Paul’s question, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2Cor. 2:16).

Short answer: We are! Because we are those who steward the faith under the law of liberty.

So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.

(James 2:12 ESV)

The law of liberty. The law that tells us not only what to do, but gives us the power to do it. The law that not only models the right stuff but mediates when we fall short. That not only reveals when we fail but has provided the means, through the atoning work of the cross, for our forgiveness.

We can embrace being holders of the faith because of the faith that holds us. Our sufficiency found in His sufficiency. Our ability the outworking of His indwelling presence. Imitators of God through abiding in the Son.

Holders of the faith. Who is sufficient? We are!

By His grace. For His glory.

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The Implanted Word

While it’s been freely given to us, we still need to receive it. Though we’ve got it, we still need to do something with it. While it’s true that it came with our being born again, it’s also true that, in order to be saved, we must activate it.

What is it? It is the implanted word.

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

(James 1:21 ESV)

I pull out my purple colored pencil and underline the verse. It’s a command to obey. Put away and receive.

But I’m struck by the fact that I am exhorted to receive something which has already been implanted. To take hold of something that is, literally, inborn. And I wonder afresh at the divine dynamic associated with the Word of God.

When I believed, the law of God was put within me; it was written on my heart (Jer. 31:33). When, by faith, I was adopted as a child of God, the Spirit of God entered, and along with Him, access to the thoughts of God (1Cor. 2:11-12). Access to the mind of God enabled by the Spirit of God, and that, through the implanted word of God.

When we taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8), it should create a hunger for more (Matt. 5:6). Having first sipped from the wells of living water, a thirst should emerge which drives us to want to drink deeply of the water Jesus said He would provide. Water that would forever quench whatever thirst we might know. Water which would overflow to the point that it would become within us “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn. 4:13-14). The implanting of the word seeding the divine dynamic of pursuing the word.

And it is this rooted word that is able to save our souls. Having already been saved by faith from the penalty of sin, we are continually being saved, by appropriating and obeying the implanted word, from the power of sin. We receive the implanted word and, through the indwelling Spirit’s active agency of renewing of our minds, it transforms our lives (Rom. 12:2).

As we determine, only through His divine enabling, to become “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22), we increasingly become imitators of Christ, and not just knowledge bearers of God. Having been freely granted a holy standing before God through the finished work of the cross, we should increasingly see a holy reality emerging in the lives we live before God because of the inborn word of the gospel.

But James also points out that there are barriers to the implanted word flourishing. Sin and pride.

Thus, we must put away all that which would defile, and reject all the evil our world is trying to tell us is good. And, we must deal with the self thoughts that would deceive us into thinking that our ways are higher than His ways. To recognize and confess the arrogance within us that causes us to say, in effect, that while He may have gifted us with the implanted word, we’ll still have the last word. Instead, with meekness–with humility and a disposition of gentle deference–we are to receive it. To take hold of it. To submit to it. To do it.

Thank God for the implanted word.

Might its roots go ever deeper that its fruit might be increasingly sweeter.

Only by His grace. Always for His glory.

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Beyond the Sun

He had done life both ways–pursuing wisdom and going after folly. He was a thinker, knowing that life was meant to be lived and that there were different ways to live it. And he had the smarts to devise experiments that would maximize his experience. What’s more, he had the means to make the world his laboratory. And so, he said to himself, “Self, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself” (Eccl. 2:1).

And enjoy himself he did. He laid hold of folly (2:3). He drank hard. He worked hard. He made whatever he wanted to make. Accumulated whatever he wanted to accumulate. Enjoyed whatever he wanted to enjoy.

Whatever his eyes desired, he gave them. Whatever his brain could think for his hands to do, he did it. And his heart found pleasure in all his toil (2:4-10).

Eventually, he sat back and considered all that his hands had done. Noodled on all that he had to show for the energy and expense he had put out. Evaluated which way was better–the way of wisdom or the way of folly–and concluded:

. . . that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.

(Ecclesiastes 2:13 ESV)

Wisdom is better than folly. He knew that. But, in the end, he was frustrated.

Though he added a ton of experiential knowledge to his already vast knowledge reserves, though he had grown in wisdom through what he had been a first-hand witness to, though he knew wisdom was the better way than folly, when all was said and done . . . he was done!

Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun . . . Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool!

(Ecclesiastes 2:11, 15-16 ESV)

Under the sun. It’s the great equalizer.

Whether you go the way of wisdom or go the way of folly, if all there is is what’s under the sun, then there’s nothing to be gained. If life’s purpose is nothing more than to somehow get through life, then it really doesn’t matter how you go about it. If the wisest of the wise is eventually forgotten like the greatest of fools, then what’s it all for?

I’m reading Solomon’s thought processing and I realize afresh that if we are not living lives that are eternal, if we are not laying up treasures for a life beyond this life, if we are not anticipating that whatever happens and gets done during our earthbound years is just setting the stage for real life afterwards, then so what?!? What difference does it make if the entire game, set, and match are played and won, or lost, only under the sun?

Doesn’t matter what you do, how much you make, how many toys you acquire, or even how much you invest in, or give away to good causes, if it’s all contained to what’s under the sun, then it’s vanity, a striving after wind.

That’s why heavenly minded people can be of such earthly good, because they live life in the context of a future–a forever, glorious future. Knowing that what’s done today will have implications which last forever. Sure, some stuff will get burned up in the transition from this life to the next, but other stuff will come through the fire that tests our lives as “gold, sliver, precious stones” worthy of eternal reward (1Cor. 3:10-15). That’s why we choose wisdom.

Wisdom is better than folly.

Solomon verified that through his life experiments. But if life is only lived under the sun, then it doesn’t really matter. However, if life, true life, abundant life, extends beyond the sun, then the wisdom of God and the ways of God are not only better for this life, but for the life to come.

And the One who is Wisdom personified is worthy of our allegiance.

. . . but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

(1Corinthians 1:23-24 ESV)

. . . that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

(Colossians 2:2-3 ESV)

Wisdom is better, Christ is better. And life–our forever life–is better . . . when we live with our minds set beyond the sun.

That’s just smart thinking. Amen?

By His grace. For His glory.

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Living Life on the Edge

They stood at the foot of the mount and they trembled. Though they were so close they could touch it, they didn’t dare. The blazing fire emanating from it, the darkness and gloom hovering over it, the tempest swirling about it–all indicating that, while this was holy ground, it was too holy for anything unholy to be near. And then there was the sound of the trumpet, the voice from on high, which made the hearers beg for no more messages to be spoken to them. With dread they understood why they had been told, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned” (Heb. 12:18-21).

And, this morning, the writer to the Hebrews reminds me that we too stand at the foot of a mountain. That we live life on the edge.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect . . .

(Hebrews 12:22-23 ESV)

If I let my mind just focus on things of this earth, right now I’m sitting at my desk with a book and a computer before me. But if I set my mind on things that are above (Col. 3:2), I am standing at the foot of a mountain. If I bring every thought into captivity, allowing the word of God to be illuminated by the Spirit of God on the things of God, I am on the outer perimeter of promised Mount Zion, the city of the living God. I am doing life on the edge.

Far from being repelled by the terror of getting too close to the holiest of holy places, I have been declared holy myself, and so, draw near with confidence. I don’t see darkness and dread awaiting those who would dare venture closer to the hill, but, instead, anticipate with longing that day when I am beckoned to ascend, knowing that what awaits are innumerable angels in festal gathering, and a grand reunion with those who are already enrolled in heaven–my spirit being welcomed to join the spirits of the righteous made perfect.

That’s the mountain that I stand at the edge of this morning. The holy hill I see today by faith as in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; the place I know of now only in part, but one day soon to be fully known, even as I will be fully known (1Cor. 13:12).

And I hangout at the border of such a majestic kingdom, with absolute certainty of my place in it, not because of who I am or because of what I’ve done. Not because of my own worthiness or righteousness. Not because I’ve negotiated some deal which guarantees my entrance. But I know I can come to Mount Zion because I have also come . . .

. . . to Jesus, the Mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

(Hebrews 12:24 ESV)

I can camp out at the border of heaven because of a Mediator better than Moses, a promise better than the Law, and a sacrifice better than any offered ever by any man.

I stand at the edge of eternity because I sit at the feet of Jesus. Unafraid of interacting with holy ground because I have been robed with His righteousness. Not driven away by fear, nor complacently content to remain at a distance, but wanting to get as close to heaven, while on earth, as is possible. To peer through whatever knot-hole in the fence I can find and behold whatever I can glimpse of the kingdom.

Because I have come to Jesus, I can live life on the edge–at the foot of Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. I can live life on the edge of eternity.

Only because of God’s grace. Solely for God’s glory.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.

(Hebrews 12:28 ESV)

Amen?

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The Creator of All Things

Came across a phrase this morning which jumped off the page. Not because I wasn’t familiar with it, but because I was. But what made it pop was that it showed up in the “wrong place.” Not just in a chapter I didn’t expect it to be found, but in a book where I never knew it existed. And not just in a different book of my bible, but in a whole different section of my bible–the Old Testament. What I had been very familiar with as a New Testament command showed up this morning as an Old Testament creation.

And so, it jumped off the page . . . and I sat back in my chair . . . and smiled to myself and said, “Self, He really is the Creator of all things.”

Through [Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name. (Hebrews 13:15 ESV)

“I have seen [the backslider’s] ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners, creating the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the LORD, “and I will heal him.” (Isaiah 57:18-19 ESV)

The fruit of the lips. I’ve know about it for a long time from Hebrews. I discovered it afresh this morning in Isaiah.

For years I have been aware that our praise is viewed in heaven as a sacrifice. Available to every believer, it is to be offered continually before our God. Kind of like the incense always burning in the holy place (Ex. 30:1-8).

But the aha! for me this morning is that, while it might be mine to give, my offering of praise, like so many other things, is also a gift sourced by Another. That what is to be offered to God has, in fact, been created by God. He is the Creator of all things, even the fruit of the lips.

Any fruit I have to offer is only because the high and lifted up One, who inhabits eternity and dwells in the high and holy place, has, in His steadfast love and abounding grace, also determined to dwell with “him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit”–and does so in order to “revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isa. 57:15).

Though He knows the tendencies of the backslider’s way (aka the guy sitting in this chair), He has also purposed not to contend forever, “nor will He always be angry” (57:16), but with compassion He will discipline them (Heb. 12:6-11) so that, with mercy, He can heal them, lead them, and restore them. And thus, creating the fruit of their lips.

His restoration is the source of our response. The salvation He has promised becomes the catalyst for our sacrifice of praise. His unfailing love and abiding grace are the seeds which bear the fruit of our lips.

He is the Creator of all things — even the fruit of our lips.

Of course, He is! I knew that. Oh, how thankful I am that I’ve been reminded of that.

To Him be all glory. For He is the Source, the only source, of such amazing grace.

Amen?

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Something Better for Us

What they did, they did because of faith. How they performed was the fruit of believing what was promised. How they responded to their life’s circumstance, based on what they reckoned to be true concerning their life’s future. What they lived for, a function of what they longed for.

. . . of whom the world was not worthy . . . (Hebrews 11:38a ESV)

You just have to sit back and pause after reading Hebrews 11. To put aside a few moments and allow your eyes to scan again the page and take note of the who’s who of redemption’s story–the pillars of faith upon which our faith is built. To take note again of the tales of heroism, sacrifice, and endurance. And all but for a promise that they never received. A land they never truly inhabited. A rest they never fully found. A Messiah who was never really, clearly identified, much less actually seen.

However, what they did know, what they had received, was enough for them to look forward to a better city (11:10), desire a better country (11:16), pursue a better reward (11:26), so that they might “rise again to a better life” (11:35). Of whom the world was not worthy.

But these inductees to Faith’s Hall of Fame lived on the other side of the cross. The side of types that pointed to something they couldn’t imagine. Navigating life in the shadows of a sacrifice to end all sacrifices; a way into the holy of holies that would forever rend the barricading curtain; a Priest who would forever mediate a perfect peace with God; and a priesthood, of which they would be part, that would forever congregate, unstained and unashamed, before the throne of God. They lived in the shadow of the cross.

We, however, live in the full glory of the cross. Thus, there is something better for us.

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

(Hebrews 11:39-40 ESV)

They looked forward to what the types and shadows sought to speak of. We look back on an empty tomb and hear afresh the cry, “It is finished!” They saw the cloud descend upon the tabernacle and wondered at the manner of glory that dwelt under the cherub’s wings. We know of the Son who came down–Immanuel, God with us–and have beheld His glory, making a way for us to boldly enter before God’s glorious throne of grace. They encountered the power in their pilgrimage through the desert. We are indwelt by the Power as we sojourn to our destination. They waited and anticipated the Messiah who was to reign, we remember Jesus who conquered sin and death, ascended on high, and is soon to return with ruling majesty and power.

As inspiring as these OT saints are, God has provided something better for us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

(Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)

Look to Jesus! Something better for us.

Let us, anew, rejoice in His amazing grace!

Let us, by faith, continue to live for His all-deserving glory!

Amen?

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